Twelve degrees F. here at my home outside of Bend today. I am currently renting an old farmhouse with inadequate insulation, low quality double paned windows, arctic air through the electrical outlets, and ice-cold floors that quickly freeze the feet. I rarely use the high-cost, high- energy consumption, electric wall heaters. That leaves me with a pellet stove – warm enough if I’m in the same room, additional layers required in the rest of the house. While I sit writing in my wool sweater and booties, I’m thinking of Desert Rain – all the elements of energy efficient home design and building technology that make a home comfortable, no matter the outdoor air temperature.
At the project site yesterday, the Energy Conservation Insulation crew was back with more spray foam insulation. The process started in July with spraying the ceiling area and around duct work and vent stacks. The initial coat of spray foam insulation in the walls was installed to about half the final thickness. Without the obstructions of wires and pipes, the spray foam can more easily penetrate the wall cavities, creating a better seal. The electrical and plumbing system work has been in progress throughout the fall. Mike Wagnon with All Phase Electric Service and Beau Parazoo with Parazoo Plumbing confirmed that both the electrical and plumbing systems passed inspection this past week. With those approvals in place ECI is working on the final layer of spray foam insulation. Desert Rain will have R-values more than twice the code requirement. ECI also uses an infrared camera to find potential ‘air leaks’ and weak spots in the insulation. The attention to detail is apparent as spray foam is visible at every location where there is a possible connection to outside air. The insulation, combined with the whole house caulking that stops air infiltration, contributes to the temperate comfort.
While I covet the idea of good insulation and no cold air infiltration, I am absolutely envious of the infloor hydronic heating system. The 4″ thick concrete slab is the thermal mass for both the infloor heating and any passive solar gain that permeates the structure. That concrete retains and radiates the warmth. The energy efficient heat pump has been working during my last few visits keeping the space warm even without an airtight front door and with construction underway. I can also appreciate the choice of the Loewen windows. Loewen uses thicker glass than most other window manufacturers. The triple glazed windows consist of two full half-inch air spaces, argon gas, Low E2 technology, a special cladding design to keep exterior metal away from the interior of the window, and edge sealing. The craftsmanship of the window frame is cabinet quality for a tight seal. The window installation process with pre-flashing details that prevent water and air infiltration is essential. The results – gradual and uniform transition from outside to inside temperature and energy efficiency.
Though inside Desert Rain is comfortable, work also continues outside in the bitter, winter weather. The framers have installed windows and are continuing work on the garage. They are using more of the reclaimed lumber for the soffits – the same material that is on the main house. As each element of design is added the garage becomes visually connected to the other structures. The project site is revealing the ‘compound’ idea that Barb and Tom had envisioned. It will be a compound of energy efficient dwellings, offering ideal comfort to the people inside – no cold feet here.